The exhibition comprised 61 works on paper by Leonardo and five models based on his designs, accompanied by a series of computer-generated animations which combining words and images to demonstrate the way he worked things out. Our approach to the exhibition was to tackle how Leonardo thought on paper, an approach to presenting Leonardo’s work which has not been attempted in an exhibition before. Many of the sheets of drawings we selected are relatively unknown and have not been exhibited. This is because we selected works, which might be classed, as ‘difficult’, as they are filled with notes or diagrams and drawings not immediately understandable.
Although we take for granted the surviving 6,000 drawings and manuscripts, they were very unusual for the time. No one had used paper to think things out in this way. No one had taken notes, drawn analogies, and exercised lateral thinking to such a degree. We traced Leonardo’s thought processes by examining his words and images and presented them classified into in four groups. For example, the ‘Minds Eye’ described his interest in how we come to understand the world and how our knowledge of it is interpreted. The second section shows Leonardo’s deep interest in the microcosm and macrocosm, a view of the world, which he developed to a new and complex level. ‘Force’ described Leonardo’s study of movement, through the study of man and birds in action. ‘Making Things’ demonstrated some of the practical applications of his knowledge from furnaces to set designs for theatrical presentations. A book to accompany the exhibition was written by Martin Kemp. The exhibition was attended by 120,000 visitors, a high number for the V&A and for this kind of exhibition. It was widely reviewed in the UK press and internationally in art publications.